Last week at work, I saw a large banner, placed at the lift waiting area, promoting a soon to be published book. On the cover there was a guy similing confidently. He is an economist professor who appeared in the news a few years ago for his controversial lectures. However, this book is not an economic book, but rather a how-to guide to life. I have not read the book. The thing that caught my attention is a piece of advice that is exerpted from it: “Emotion/Feeling is the enemy of success”.

If it is true, it is unfortunate that success must have enemies. But if is not, it can still be correct from the author’s perspective if he himself had encountered circumstances that brought about his belief. In fact, wisdom giving is mostly drawn from personal experience, which is by definition subjective. And because of its rehtoric nature, advices like this are more suitable to make the author look good than for readers to live by. Consider the uniqueness of each person and circumstance, forcibly apply wisdom of one life in another can be harmful. There are cases of people working themselves to death. Had they stayed attuned to their own tiredness, tragic end wouldn’t have come. There are cases of people staying in abusive working environments just because someone said that being tough was how winning was done.

Advices are not inherently bad. It is like putting on a pair of shoes, it may fit just nice or it may hurt. And as with shoes buying, we try on different pairs until finding one that works for us. To borrow words from one of my favorite book, The Big Picture, though we don’t know which advices work for us, we can at least be honest Bayesians, which is to experiment with a piece of advice, get result, and update our posterior belief accordingly. And most importantly, if advices from a “successful” person do not work for us, it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we are not up to standard. On the contrary, it is just that piece of wisdom is not applicable. Move on and try something else.

In order to appreciate what works and what does not, emotion/feeling is an important indicator. Rather than treating it as enemy, acknowledging one’s emotion/feeling can be the first step to living creatively.